Perhaps the happiest moment as a tourist comes when you feel your visions of a country aligning with reality. This can happen with food, such as with the ragu-stuffed arancini, above. It can also just as easily fail to happen with food (take the frozen paella served at so many bars here in Spain). It happened to us in Italy, with the aperitivo.
At first I kept cringing when little snack plates were brought out with our drinks, expecting an extra, probably astronomical charge. Apparently still hurting from the 2005 trip I took to Rome. Well, this trip's aperitifs and accompanying snacks definitely helped assuage the pain.
As did some homey, saucy gnocchi. A piece of modern Italy, a Milan self-service cafeteria, but with gnocchi as pillowy as anyone's nonna could churn out.
And, of course, the further outside the city centers we got, the more "Italian" the landscape became. Things ceased to be tailored to English-speaking tourists. They ceased to even recognize our existence. Which is fine by me, if a bit confusing. It turns out when I go somewhere where I really can't communicate, at the prospect of a conversation, I get very giggly.
For me, NOTHING (that I can think of right now) tells me more about a place than its grocery stores. And the ones in the small town of Lérici had my breath caught in my throat. These purple asparagus were enough to prompt me to have a "conversation" with the ancient shopkeeper. I think we talked about how white asparagus are common in Spain and Peru, and green everywhere, but that these purple ones were grown in Tuscany. I think. At any rate, I didn't say anything too offensive, because he let me take a picture.
The closer you get to nature, the more you really see a place. So we checked out of Milan ASAP, heading to the Italian coast. More to come with what we saw. Here's to Italy! A teaser: